I get a fair amount of questions from students or young designers trying to break into the design community. There seems to be this goal to seek approval from other designers. To be part of the inner circle, make more design friends and feel valued as a designer.
Generally, there is nothing wrong with this. Gaining acceptance into the group can be important and empowering. It's part of human nature, survival instinct.
But when it comes to the design community, two important things are misunderstood:
Nr.1: There is no such thing as "the design community" anymore.
Maybe there used to be "a" design community, but it was very small. Fewer people practiced design as we know it today, and most designers weren't as connected pre-internet, especially internationally. Today, the design community is still fairly small but much more scattered than the past.
Similar to many other larger communities, it now consists of little pockets of smaller design communities, formed based on the specific craft they practice or the values they agree on. Design has become more political than ever, which naturally leads to divides. But this is nothing new; we see it in every community that has grown beyond its initial size.
Because there is no single "design community" anymore, striving to be of it might be misguided or wasted energy entirely. No single source of authority exists.
"You can become the most successful designer without the design community ever hearing your name."
Nr.2: Trying hard to be recognized or accepted by any community might not be as important as we think.
When I started out as a designer, it was almost impossible for me to get into the designer club, even though (or perhaps because) it was so small at the time. At the time, I wasn't focused on my work, but more so on the approval of other designers. I just wanted to be part of the in-crowd.
I realized much later I had the wrong goal in my mind. I thought if I was accepted into the holy world of the designers, I would not only become a better designer but also a more successful one. I thought it would lead me to more projects and better job opportunities. That wasn't entirely true.
If you're an up and coming designer or starting out in any field, I wouldn't focus so much on becoming part of a specific community. Most communities, if they still exist, are guarded by gatekeepers trying to keep out anything that could potentially become a threat to their established kingdom.
It's much more productive to focus on those who need you, your craft and your wisdom. In a designer's case, those people are real clients and companies who need design services.
To design for a client, and do good work for a client, there is no need for other designers' acceptance or approval. You can become the most successful designer without the design community ever hearing your name. Eventually, they may hear about you, but not because you tried to establish yourself in the community first. Rather, because you established yourself outside, through your work.
Being part of the inner circle is overrated. Of course, it's a nice feeling. It's great to get kudos from fellow designers. But in the end, those designers are rarely the ones who give you new work or pay for your bills.
In the end, it's just you and your work that counts, nothing else.
Hi, I'm Tobias, a German designer living in New York. I'm the founder of DESK, nice to meet you!